I bought this Pu-erh tea brick during my recent tea shopping expedition in Stockholm.
To be somewhat pedantic for a moment, the shape is more correctly described as “fang cha” ( 方茶 ), which translates as “square tea“. The term “brick” ( Zhuancha, 砖茶 ) usually refers to the rectangular, slightly thicker shape.
This is a “raw/sheng” Pu-erh ( 生茶 ), i.e. one that has been pressed into shape and then left to ferment and age naturally, rather than one that has undergone the Wò Dūi ( 渥堆 ) or wet piling technique that results in a “ripe/cooked” or Shu Pu-erh ( 熟茶 ).
This particular brick is sold under the “Yinghao” brand name, and is made by the Fu Hua tea company, with leaves from old tea trees growing at an altitude of 3500m, near Lin Cang, located in the South West of Yunnan province.
This is important in terms of flavour for 2 reasons. Firstly, older trees have a better developed root system, and are thus more capable of extracting nutrients from the soil.
Secondly, trees growing at high altitude have a slower rate of growth. This means the leaves have more time to accumulate nutrients and develop flavour.
This combination does also mean that those delicious leaves are fewer in number, and harder to harvest, which, as you might expect, has an impact on price.
This particular 100g brick cost 380 Swedish Crowns, which at the time of writing is £31.50 GB, $44.90 US, or €40.69.
After pressing, the brick was aged in a dry, dark, closed storage house for 10 years.
My first impression of the tea was that it was tightly compressed. It took a good bit of careful work to split the cake open and lever off the amount I needed. This has to be done with some care in order to avoid tearing up the leaves, which can make the resulting tea overly bitter.
I steeped the tea in my gaiwan, using 6g to the 150ml volume of the gaiwan. As per usual with Pu-erh, the water was right off a full-on rolling boil, and was kept at that temperature with the assistance of my ever faithful Thermos flask.
I gave the tea one quick 5 second rinse, to remove as much tea dust as possible and begin the process of waking the tea up.
After the rinse, which I used to warm the tea cup and the cebei I use as a fairness cup, I gave the tea quick infusions, starting at 5 seconds and increasing by 5 seconds with each subsequent infusion.
The resulting tea liquor was initially quite mellow in taste. It didn’t start to take on the deep red Pu-erh colour and pronounced earthy tones until the third steeping, but then it just kept on coming.
During each steeping I used the lid of the gaiwan to stir the tea, as well as gently chop at it, encouraging the tea to loosen up in as natural a way as possible.
The well known Pu-erh earthiness manifested itself as what I can only describe as summer Scandinavian pine forest. There was a sweetness to the earthiness that reminded me of the soil at our summer house, which is in a pine forest. A large part of that soil is composed of pine tree detritus, and has a soft sweet smell to it, which was just like this tea’s taste.
This also showed in the aroma coming off the wet leaves between steepings, which reminded me of the same forest just after a quick rain shower on a blazing hot summer’s day, or the smell of camping during summer, of nearness to the earth.
Once the tea was into its stride a pleasant astringency appeared in the back of the throat. The lingering fragrance in the teacup had that hard to pin down umami quality to it, vaguely reminiscent of soy sauce almost.
One noticeable thing was the teas physiological effects. Already by the second steeping I was experiencing a real tea buzz, becoming very focused and yet extremely calm. I also found the tea very warming – even after the second infusion the back of my neck was sweating a lot.
I was so focused on the tea making process that I actually forgot how many times I steeped the tea during the session. Judging by the amount of hot water I used it must have been at least 13 infusions, but the leaves were still up to the task.
The great thing is that because this is a sheng Pu-erh, it will continue to get even better with age.
With this knowledge comes the Pu-erh paradox, the great dilemma, that being that you can’t age your brick and drink it.
That’s why so many Pu-erh aficionados when they come across a tea they really like buy 2 lots – 1 to age, and one to drink on an on-going basis.
Ah, so many teas, so little time, not to mention a finite sum of cash available for tea purchasing….